Between 1940 and 1944, Steinbeck pondered the folktale he heard with his close friend Edward F. Ricketts while in the Gulf of California. In those four years, he transformed this folktale into a short story titled “The Pearl of the World,” which first appeared in the Woman’s Home Companion magazine in December of 1945 (Meyer 281). At this time of his career, some of Steinbeck’s recently completed works were receiving harsh criticism, including shortness in length. Steinbeck’s editor, Pat Covici, suggested expanding his short story, since two of Steinbeck’s other small books had already been criticized for slightness, implying that a third would only bring more negative criticism (Benson 569). Motivated to prove himself once more, he successfully developed his short story into a novella. This happened in a hasty three-month span and the result was the first draft of his manuscript The Pearl (Hotelling).
According to the “Manuscript of The Pearl,” the original manuscript itself has very few corrections, which are marked in ink. Consisting of sixty seven folio leaves and written on rectos only, the first twenty leaves are in pencil, and the remaining forty seven are in pen. While the beginning of the manuscript is nearly identical to the published version, there are clearly many differences between the two, with the most notable being the dissimilar ending of the book. Other variations range from specific word changes to the arrangement of chapters and paragraphs. For example, the published text is divided into six untitled chapters, while the manuscript contains fourteen, some of which are titled and even subtitled. Steinbeck initially wrote on the head of the first leaf, “Trial sheet. To be thrown away.” Furthermore, “the collation of the manuscript suggests that two separate passages included in the final text of The Pearl were written by Steinbeck at a later date (pages 51-65 and 114-122 in the first Viking edition)” (“Manuscript of The Pearl”).
The initial text was copied by Steinbeck’s wife since his handwriting was difficult to read and he could not afford a secretary during the 1940s (Lemons). Meanwhile, after quickly completing the first draft of The Pearl, it took nearly three years for the book to be published and reach the public in its finished form. This was due to Steinbeck’s plan to have the film version and the story released together. Unfortunately, the film production lasted much longer than Steinbeck anticipated, pushing the expected release of the book back a couple of years and causing him to gradually lose interest in the project. Finally, in November of 1947 Viking Press published Steinbeck’s novella in book form as The Pearl, which coincided with the release of the film version by RKO Radio Pictures (Parini 317). However, both went relatively unnoticed in the early stages of reception; many critics ignored the text, and those who did choose to review it claimed the novella was naïve and simplistic, causing sales to be mediocre at best (Parini 317).
But eventually the book found a large audience in American schools, causing sales to rise and Steinbeck’s popularity to grow: in January of 1948 alone, The Pearl had sold 2,000 copies (Parini 317). The first edition was a two-dollar hardback that featured illustrations by Jose Clemente Orozco (Hotelling). Orozco, a contemporary of Steinbeck who “shared similar social concerns with the author,” created detailed woodcuts depicting Mexican culture that influenced Steinbeck and reflected his beliefs (www.steinbeck.org). Also published was a twenty-five-cent Bantam paperback including stills from the motion picture (Hotelling). Based on the availabilities at the SJSU Steinbeck Center, there were at least three major editions of The Pearl released within the first year of its publication. A 1972 edition of the book mentions that by 1962 there were eighteen different printings, and by 1972 there were forty two different printings in existence. Today, The Pearl is one of the most widely read books among young students because of Steinbeck’s style and the book’s moral qualities.